Lucas: Ask Tyson

Lucas: Ask Tyson

By Adam Lucas

Not too long ago, Mike Fox was riding in a cab in downtown Atlanta. He was explaining a detail of Carolina's weekend road schedule, and how his team was taking a slightly circuitous route to get to a restaurant where they'd be eating a pregame meal.

"They told me about it before they left, and they said, 'Tyson said this was what we should do,' and then they went on with this long explanation about why it was the best thing even if it didn't seem like it," Fox said. "And what they didn't know was, I quit listening as soon as they said, 'Tyson said...,' because once it was OK with Tyson, it was OK with me."

The occupants of the car chuckled a little. That sounded like something Mike Fox would say, because that's the kind of relationship the head coach had with his clubhouse manager, Tyson Lusk.

But Fox didn't laugh. He was serious. "No," he said, "I mean it. Once Tyson says something is OK, that's the highest endorsement anything can get. That's all I need to know."

"Tyson took settling for a standard Golden Corral team meal and turned it into calling a month in advance to negotiate a five-course meal," says Robert Woodard, who both played and coached for the Tar Heels during the Lusk era. "Everything he set up was big-league."

Fox was occasionally asked what he would do without Lusk, who graduated from Carolina in 2009 after four years as a student manager, then promptly stepped right into the role as clubhouse manager. "I don't even want to think about it," the head coach would invariably reply.

Lusk, Fox and pitching coach Scott Forbes are three of the very, very few people who have been there for each of Carolina's six trips to the College World Series in the past eight seasons. But the trio has now been split, and now Fox will have to contemplate post-Lusk life, because Tyson is moving on to a job as director of baseball operations at South Carolina.

Casual Tar Heel fans might not have known Lusk. That's the way he liked it, content to stay in the shadows, even though those who got to know him realized he was--among other things--a master impressionist (one of the few people to accurately depict both Phil Ford and Sylvia Hatchell) and a deceptively snappy dresser. But during his four seasons on the payroll, he was unfailingly the first one to show up for anything, the last one to leave, and the first person you'd call anytime you had a problem. He was committed, he was passionate and he was completely and totally protective of the good name of the University of North Carolina.

In other words, he was exactly what you probably think you'd be if you ever had the opportunity to work for the Tar Heels. He loves the things you love: the Charles Kuralt speech, the "I'm a Tar Heel" video, finding an empty parking space on Franklin Street with time on the meter. When he needed an activity to do with a kid he mentored through the Big Brother program, he did what he thought every child should want to do--he took him to a game at Kenan Stadium. His ringback tone was James Taylor's "In My Mind I'm Gone to Carolina." You get the idea.

At the top of his Tar Heel list, however, was the baseball program. It helps that Tyson was in Chapel Hill for the best eight years in the history of Carolina baseball. But the reason he connected with everyone was because his passion always seemed to be for the people, not for the wins and losses.

But he was there for some incredible wins. "I will never forget seeing Tyson after Chad Flack hit the home run at Alabama to send us to Omaha," Forbes says. "I had no idea he had that high of a vertical. I remember looking at him when it went over the fence, and I knew right then he cared just as much about our program as any of us."

There's another story that best illustrates his passion, but we have to be careful with the details to protect the innocent. Let's just say that Carolina was playing a road baseball game at a familiar conference opponent. That game, as they often do, got heated, and the dugouts started barking at each other. The evening teetered right on the edge of a brawl.

The next day, as the opposing head coach stood around home plate during BP, he was discussing the previous day's altercation when he said, "Who was that guy in the dugout who was looking over here and starting to tear off his jacket?"

Yep, that was Tyson. Point of order: never, ever do anything to criticize, sully or otherwise impugn the University of North Carolina when he's around. It's virtually the only way to anger one of the kindest people you'll ever meet, and the jacket will come off.

I have seen him truly angry on only a handful of occasions. One was the above game. A few others have come during Tar Heel basketball games, when someone had the temerity to foul a Carolina player too hard ("Cheater!!") or a commentator said something unflattering about Dean Smith (for this, I think we can all agree, we'll take off the jacket in unison). One was last summer, when we went to watch the Seattle Mariners play the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

While my son was off chasing batting practice foul balls, I happened to turn and catch Tyson in a heated discussion with a stadium security official. The security guard's crime? He'd threatened to prevent Tyson from getting close enough to say hello to former Tar Heel players Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, who play for the Mariners.

In eight years of working with Tyson through the baseball program, I don't think I ever saw him tell anyone no. This sounds nice, but you only understand the magnitude of the statement if you realize how many favors he heard every day. Give a tour? Sure. Change the team's food order at the last second? No problem. Get a player the piece of equipment he forgot? Tyson already had a backup in place.

"Tyson never got a hit or never got anyone out, but he is as big a part of our success as Alex White, Colin Moran or Chad Flack," says assistant coach Scott Jackson. "No one but those inside our locker room know how much he has played a part in our success. You can't put into words what he means to UNC Baseball-no way-and no one will ever realize his impact on the coaches, staff and most importantly, the players and their families."

Tyson officially started work at South Carolina on Friday. There's no doubt that at some point today, someone has been flummoxed by having a question that suddenly has no answer; the response to so many baseball-related queries over the past eight years has always been, "Ask Tyson."

In the late hours one night last week, Forbes sent a text that seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone associated with Carolina baseball as they pondered life without one of the program's most indispensable members.

"Hey man," it read, "let's kidnap Tyson."

Adam Lucas is a columnist.